Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.
In 2005 I launched Youth Action for Change (YAC), a youth-led organisation offering free online courses to young change makers. Starting with a budget of $150, I grew the organisation to 130 countries in 5 years, attracted a staff of 25 and trained over 4,000 youth. During this time I worked out strategic partnerships with Amnesty International, the UN and Oxfam, attracted funds from the Council of Europe and Starbucks and created strong media relationships with the BBC, MTV and WIRED.
A spin-off of YAC that I created – a citizen journalism platform called Forgotten Diaries – attracted 50 young bloggers from 10 neglected conflict areas and trained them in cooperation with the Pulitzer Centre and the CNN. Our articles were syndicated by several media outlets globally and ignited youth-led, peacebuilding projects in 15 countries. YAC received 34 awards for impact and I was named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum at age 26, the youngest one ever selected for Europe.
In 2008 I was instead elected to the voluntary position of Coordinator at the Major Group on Children and Youth, an official lobby group at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
I decided to focus my attention on fostering transparency and impact, something the group had lacked since the creation of the Commission in 1992, according to public opinion. I recruited a team of 36 volunteers and built a platform to collect inputs from youth in 6 languages, sharing them with representatives from 53 governments. I also successfully lobbied to revive a UN scholarship fund to support youth delegates from developing countries. To increase the group’s visibility and legitimacy, I delivered workshops at several UN agencies, the European Commission and Columbia University. These efforts led to a 50% increase in youth participation at UN meetings, our recommendations were included in UN Resolution 17/2009 and the Commission Chair declared our group the top performer, among the 8 official lobby groups.
I moved to Afghanistan in 2009 to work as “emergency curriculum development” expert with the UN, sure that my stint would be without problems, as the UN had never really received any threats or hostilities since 1949.
A month into it, a Taliban commando stormed a UN guest house killing 5 UN staff, and forcing the UN to evacuate its personnel and terminate most projects due to security reason. I was repatriated, but my determination to help Afghan people and continue my work, was stronger than the fear and the emotional toll that the attack had exacted. I returned to Kabul determined to finish my work and make a difference to honour the memory of those killed in the line of duty: I finished my book and successfully convinced the UN to produce comics as well, a format more suitable for illiterate audiences. The comics eventually received backing by the Afghan Ministry of Education for their effectiveness and became a teaching tool for children and communities across rural Afghanistan.
In 2013 I moved back to Kabul to pursue a dream I had since my first experience in Afghanistan in 2009: open The Qessa Academy, a vocational school that revives traditional oral heritage while training unemployed youth to foster development through storytelling, an effective teaching method in a country with a literacy rate of 26%.
Armed with only $50,000 and my capabilities, I restored a mud house to host the school, plastered thousands of posters around Kabul to find students and secured top scholars and poets as teachers. Amid war and daily threats, I managed to keep the school open and offered 17 students - 8 of which girls - a chance to preserve the country’s rich history and jobs as storytellers with top NGOs.